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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surreally domestic, 1 Feb. 2008
By 
Simon Thomas "bookaholic" (Oxford/Somerset, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Those of you who are more knowledgeable than I will have spotted that the title is from The Fire of Drift-Wood by Longfellow.

We spake of many a vanished scene,
Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
And who was changed, and who was dead;

The only other Comyns I've read was Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, so she certainly has a way with titles. I bought Who Was Changed... a few years ago, partly because I'd quite enjoyed Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, partly because the mix of a Virago paperback and an interesting cover piqued my interest. Had I turned to the first sentence, I daresay I'd have read the novel much sooner: 'The ducks swan through the drawing-room windows.' How can you not want to read on?

The novel opens with a flood, and things get stranger and stranger. If I were to choose one word to describe this novel it would be "surreal" - but surreal in a very grounded manner. Exactly like the cover illustration, actually; part of 'Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta: Dinner on the Hotel Lawn' by Stanley Spencer. Throughout the events (which I don't want to spoil for you) Comyns weaves a very real, earthy, witty portrait of a village - especially the Willoweed family. A cantankerous old lady who won't step on land she doesn't own, Grandmother Willoweed, rules over her docile son, Ebin, and his young children Emma, Hattie and Dennis. Grandmother W is a truly brilliant creation - without the slightest feeling for anybody around her, she is still amusing rather than demonic. For some reason this novel was banned in Ireland upon publication in 1954 - perhaps for the occasional unblenching descriptions, but these are easily skipped if you, like me, can be a bit squeamish.

Though quite a slim novel - my copy is 146 pages of large type - Comyns writes a book which lingers in the mind, one that is vivid and funny and absurd and a must read for anyone interested in off-the-wall literature with human nature at its heart.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surreal, touching, grotesque, domestic - a really super read, 2 Dec. 2009
This is another absolute gem of a book by Barbara Comyns. Its atmosphere is wonderfully surreal, comic and grotesque. As a writer she does not shy away from describing anything and she has such an eye for the casual cruelties of family and community as well as their loving and supportive functions. The characters are really well built up and convincing, especially the children, but then Barbara Comyns is a bit of an expert when it comes to writing about and from the perspective of children - that is one of the features that makes her work (especially Who was changed) so notable. This one comes highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Curiosity!, 24 May 2013
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This was an unexpected, crazy, delight, conjuring up a mix of bucolic charm and almost medieval horror.The narrators voice feels authentic as Comyns young woman struggles towards adulthood.Why isnt this author better known?
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Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Virago Modern Classics)
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (Virago Modern Classics) by Barbara Comyns (Paperback - April 1987)
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